Pre-teen Addison (Maybe Burke) likes history. Specifically, the last Romanovs and their spiritual adviser Gregory “The Mad Monk” Rasputin (Drita Kabashi). Out of loneliness and passion for a subject most of her peers will most likely never share even if they register Republican, Rasputin is a constant, real, and very funny friend. Their fantastical relationship with each other and Russian-American activist Emma Goldman (Imani Pearl Williams) is the basis for Alexis Roblan’s Red Emma and The Mad Monk. The entertaining historical musical comedy-fantasy is now at The Tank following its 2017 world premiere at Ars Nova’s ANT Fest.
Red Emma and The Mad Monk takes the oddball kid with a self-discovered expertise many of the theatre types in the audience recognized in themselves with boisterous appreciation, veteran movie characters Rasputin (played by Lionel Barrymore, Christopher Lee and Tom Baker) and Emma Goldman (Maureen Stapleton won an Oscar playing her in Reds) played for effective laughs (Emma is way more serious in the musicals Assassins and Ragtime), and serious observation of Internet use. When Addison’s computer privileges are taken away by parents informed by FBI detectives (both sets unseen) of her doxing and whines her “connection to the outside world is gone!,” it’s sad a smart kid doesn’t know about the library. Yet, she must have seen the dreadful Nicholas and Alexandra movie because the portrait of Rasputin she made for her history report looks a lot like Tom Baker. Addison’s areas of expertise attracts another kind of interest from Surkov (Silver), the musical’s narrator.
Teresa Lotz’s smart, funny score alternates between Addison, Rasputin’s sordid involvement in accelerating the Russian Revolution and a kinky chapter of Emma Goldman’s long life. Red Emma is a young woman living with two cousins Sasha (Fernando Gonzalez) and Modest (Jonathan Randell). The three operate an ice cream shop to front their living arrangements and political activities, leading to their involvement in the Homestead Steel Strike of 1882.
While Roblan and co-creator/director Katie Lindsay maintain both histories, the casting is unexpectedly, wonderfully different, making the whole concept work even better. Addison/Maybe is trans, Rasputin/Drita female, and Emma/Imani a African-American. They are a formidable trio asking questions of each other and the audience.
Remaining performances are August 28, 29, 30, 31 and September 1 at The Tank (312 West 36th Street, First Floor).Tickets are $20 General Admission and $30 Premium Reserved Seating – not a bad idea since it’s selling out. Complete information is available on The Tank’s website.